Tom Brady wouldn’t be the greatest of all time even if he had ten rings.
Peyton Manning is the greatest quarterback of all time, and I don’t care about rings. I’m not a GM, I’m not an owner, I’m not picking a hypothetical team to win a superbowl. I’m simply a person who evaluates the measures by which greatness of a quarterback are judged. I’m not here to debate the greatest winner or player, but I will talk about the greatest pure quarterback. Peyton Manning has proven in multiple ways that he is the greatest quarterback. He (in my opinion) has helped shift the way the game has been played, he is statistically atop most categories, and he adds more true value to a team than Tom Brady does.Through multiple variables you will see why winning is not the main measurement for greatness at a position, but just the tip of the iceberg.
What does a quarterback do for their offense? In today’s day in age, mainly everything. Outside of gameplaning, an average NFL quarterback gets his play (which often has multiple plays within it based on coverage) and reads the defense pre and post snap for what they are running. The quarterback often is in charge of the changing of protection at the line based off of the pre snap alignment of the defense, while also calling certain run plays at the line of scrimmage, again based off the pre snap alignment. They have the ability to call audibles which are often gameplanned. NFL quarterbacks do not change plays arbitrarily. This is one of the most important statements the average viewer or reader (in this case) needs to understand. Everything is planned, and the amount of hours spent in the film room contribute to this level of preparation for the average NFL quarterback.
Let’s go back to the early 2000’s. The NFL was a league where running the football and having a great defense was the formula to a successful team. The game was based on having great running backs who can last. The quarterback was still important, the value of the quarterback was on par with the running backs. From 1998-2009, around 5 quarterbacks each year breached the 4000 yard mark in a season. From 2009-present, the 4000 yard mark is the standard of a good season, with the top 10+ passers in all but two seasons reaching and exceeding that mark. Since 2009, the 5000 yard mark has been broken 7 times. Why the sudden increase in passing? Over the course of Peyton Manning’s career, commentators praised him for his preparation skills and attention to detail by working tirelessly throughout the offseason with his receivers to get their timing down. Peyton was often seen on the sidelines going over pictures from previous plays and defensive alignments often to correct a mistake or figure out a way to beat that coverage or defensive formation.
Now, these things weren’t introduced by Peyton, outside of the pictures of previous plays on the sides lines. Throwing routes and watching film was what a quarterback did. But, nobody was able to take this process and create a paradigm shift in the NFL to make the quarterback the single greatest asset to a team. The reason you can even have the argument that Brady is the greatest of all time is because that Manning paved the way for quarterbacks to take on more of the responsibility in a win (forgetting the other 21+ players who have important roles in winning). Others benefited from this new structure definitely. Drew Brees probably being the one of the best suited for this type of shift (statistically), but no one benefited more than Tom Brady. Now the way you “win” games is by having the best quarterback.
In order to be a successful quarterback, you must have the ability to play that position at an incredibly high level. You can measure a quarterback’s ability by two categories. One being physical ability, and that includes size, speed, mobility, arm strength and intelligence. In both Brady and Manning’s scouting reports, arm strength was the most comparable question. Manning had a stronger arm than Brady. Brady’s biggest downfall was his athleticism and lack of arm strength to make the big NFL throws. Manning’s was that he was thought to be at his pinnacle. His athletic ability wasn’t really judged, but there were some questions about his arm strength. Both were considered to be be very intelligent. In the given scouting reports (both by NFL scouts before the draft) Manning had the edge physically and was praised more for his intelligence. With that being said, in Tom Brady’s report by Russ Lande, it was stated that Brady had the ability to make the big plays. I think that both strengths were seen in the their NFL careers, and given the scouting report and my analytical opinion, physically Manning was a superior QB than Brady.
The second way you measure a quarterback’s ability is statistics. This might be one of the most heavily weighted measures when you come to the conclusion of who is a better quarterback, since statistics are directly correlated to one’s ability to take the tasks given to them by their superior (this could be a coach or a boss) and put them into action. It’s an objective measure to prove who can separate themselves from others competing with them. In Peyton Manning’s career he averages a 65.3 completion percent, 4,231 yards per season, and 32 touchdowns. Over Brady’s career, he averages a 63.9 completion percentage, 4,184 yards per season and 31 touchdowns. Manning has the slight edge. Manning has broken the single season passing touchdown record not once but twice. Brady broke it once, and that was Manning’s first record, and he beat him by one touchdown. When Manning rebroke it in 2013, he beat it by 5 touchdowns in the greatest season a quarterback could ever have (at this point). He has the single season passing yards record edging out Drew Brees by a yard. He has the second highest single season passer rating of all time (second to Aaron Rodgers, Brady has the 4th all time). Now let’s go all time. Peyton Manning has the most passing yards all time with 71,940 (Brady is 4th with 66,159). Manning has the most passing touchdowns of all time at 539 (Brady tied for 3rd with Drew Brees at 488). Two stats that you would think Brady would have the record on, Manning actually does, and those are 4th quarter comebacks (Manning 45, Brady 41) and game winning drives (Manning 56, Brady 52).
There are plenty more statistics you can read off where Peyton is among the top 5, but those are the primary ones to look at. The most important part of these statistics is now that the 2017 regular season is over, both Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have 18 seasons under their belt. Brady doesn’t seem to be done yet, so if he does surpass Manning, it will be done over a longer period of time. Having a longer career is not a negative for Tom Brady’s career, in fact it’s a positive. Right now you can look at their stats and compare them evenly without any other variables. We see that in the same number of years Manning edged out Brady in all of the most important statistical categories that matter (although not mentioned above, Brady has a higher all time passer rating). So, comparing the two, Manning again has the edge, and as mentioned above, statistics are the most objective measure you can use to judge one’s ability to do their job, and Manning’s are superior.
Now for the final point: winning is a subjective measurement for judging a player. Both players have added value to their team. This is a quick and easy point, when taking Tom Brady’s 5 rings into consideration, you have to take into account the players around them. We all know defense “wins championships”, and it’s an important component to winning Super Bowls. To cite 18 seasons worth of information would be a little overkill, so take my word for it, the New England defense was statistically better than the Indianapolis Colts. Their defense was always filled with talented players who excelled at their position. The defense on the Colts was sub part at best during Peyton’s tenure in Indy, and when Peyton didn’t have the team on his back, very rarely did his defense come through in the clutch. The ironic part about that is both of Manning’s Super Bowl wins came at the helm of their defense, and in 2006 a great running attack, but that is just something I would like to point out to show that when Manning has a full team behind him, they win Super Bowls.
Another factor is that Tom Brady has the greatest coach of all time on his side. The patriots coaching staff has produced the most head coaches in the NFL in recent years and always is prepared to win with what they have. What they have fits the beautiful offensive system that they run. I would love to go into gruesome details about the most effective way to win and how NE has created a system-like environment, but without writing an entire article about that, this is just a statement that can be heavily debated, and therefore it is just food for thought. Ultimately, with coaching and defense NE has had an overall better team than Indy and for the most part Denver. That final point and the subjectiveness for Suerbowl wins spills very conveniently into true value to team.
When you look at both QB’s, both had season ending injuries. Here’s what happened before the injuries and what happened during and after: In 2007 the Pats were 1st in team and scoring offense, 1st in passing offense, and 13th in rushing offense. They went 16-0 arguably the greatest team of all time. In 2008, Brady gets injured and is replaced by 7th round pick Matt Cassel. They fell off from the top, but not that far. They went 11-5 and were 8th in team and scoring offense, 12th in passing offense, and 6th in rushing offense. When Brady came back in 2009 they went 10-6 and were 6th in team offense, 3rd in passing offense, 12th rushing offense. Those numbers would not indicate the loss of a key player, maybe a difference in scheme and ways to win (I.E. 2017 NO Saints and Drew Brees). In Brady’s most recent absence from the team, the Pats went 3-1 under two different starting quarterbacks, which included a pretty grueling start to their schedule. Now let’s look at the Colts/Broncos. In 2010 the colts went 10-6, they were 4th in team offense and scoring offense, 1st in passing offense, and 29th in rushing offense. In 2011, Manning gets hurt and they drop to 2-14. They were 29th in team offense and scoring offense, 27th in passing offense, and 26th in rushing offense. The 2012 Broncos show a nice bounce back year and they went 13-3 and were 2nd in team offense and scoring, 5th in passing, and had the 16th rushing offense. When you look at those numbers, you clearly see how valuable Peyton Manning is to his team. Not only does that show that Peyton has a higher significance in the team’s ability to win, but it also shows that the Colts were not always that talented around him. I’m not saying that if you were to switch players and teams that the outcomes wouldn’t be the same, but I think that this just goes to show you how the Indianapolis Colts were basically designed behind the arm of Peyton Manning, and how the Patriots can plug another player in and have an extremely similar outcome.
This debate will wage on for a long time. I think that with all of this, Tom Brady is one of the best and a player I highly respect. What he has done for the game is great, and the way he carries himself is extremely respectable from a former competitor in myself. Both quarterbacks have done tremendous things for the game and are easily 1 & 2. It has truly been a pleasure watching both of them play.
By: Billy Ray